Rising star reflects on her path to becoming Idaho’s first female pro player
By Gunnar Berndt
Chicago, Ill. – Sofia Huerta’s six goals and three assists as a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) rookie in 2015 are even more impressive when one considers she is not exactly from an American soccer hotbed. In fact, the 22-year-old’s rise is quite remarkable in light of her being the first ever professional female player from the state of Idaho, whose weather patterns don’t allow for year-round soccer and figured heavily into Huerta having to spread her talent across a whopping five different sports while growing up.
The Red Stars striker started swimming and playing both soccer and basketball around age five. She attributes her introduction to athletics at a young age to a natural disposition as well as to her older sister Andrea and older brother Alejandro.
“My parents had me take up sports because I had so much energy and they were trying to give me an outlet,” Huerta remembered. “In addition, my siblings were involved in basketball, running and soccer. I always watched them excel at those and really wanted to be like them.”
While at first glance pro sports doesn’t seem to run in the family for the Idaho native, a closer look tells a slightly different story. When asked about it, she will tell the story of her sister, a Boise State forward who she says “could have been really, really good” if she had started playing prior to age 14. She will also mention her father Mauricio, who played volleyball for Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico and who “was in and out of Mexican national team camp but never ended up going to an Olympics.”
Huerta’s mother Jodie is a former cheerleader and tennis player who, according to the Chicago ace, “is now really into marathons and half-marathons and hasn’t missed a day of running seven to eight miles” since ringing in the New Year with a 12 a.m. run on January 1, 2015.
“My parents are actually very athletic,” offered the youngest of the family’s three siblings. “They just didn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had. I used to ask myself why I’m so competitive, and then I would see it in my dad when he would play during his lunch breaks at work, and in my mom’s dedication to running. That has really explained a lot.”
Huerta’s potential for athletic greatness showed early, as she added track and volleyball to her list of swimming, soccer and basketball and made her mark in all five sports throughout middle school. “To this day, I hold all YMCA breaststrokes records in all age groups,” she grins as she reflects on her childhood years.
While the multifaceted athlete was unable to continue swimming and playing volleyball at Boise’s Centennial High School due to overlapping seasons, she did excel at all three of her remaining sports.
In track, Huerta was a four-time All-American, the 2011 State Champion in 100 meters hurdles and a three-time State Champion in 300 meters hurdles, as well as at one point the national high school record holder for both 100 and 300 meter hurdles. Meanwhile, her outstanding play on the basketball court earned her the Centennial assists record, selections to the 2011 All-Idaho First Team, the All-Conference First Team (twice), the All-State Second Team (3 times) and the All-Academic Team (3 times).
Of course, the list of Huerta’s high school honors for soccer is even longer. It includes two Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year awards, two Conference Player of the Year awards, the 2010 Subway High School Hero Award, a recognition as 2009-10 ESPN RISE All-American, and selections to the All-Conference First Team (twice) and the All-Academic Team (4 times).
“Out of all my sports, the soccer success simply happened faster and I had more of it,” offered the striker, who, until recently, held Idaho’s high school record for goals with 126. “By third grade, I was playing up two years and I was bigger and faster than everyone, and that pretty much always continued. Then I was making regional teams, which is less of a big deal with basketball. The regional teams exposed me to collegiate coaches at a really young age.
“I got my first college recruitment letter in eighth grade, which was from UCLA. But that definitely wasn’t the moment I figured out it would be soccer. I think I knew from a pretty young age. I spent most of my time playing soccer and everyone knew me as a soccer player.”
While Huerta had scholarship offers for basketball, by far the most attractive ones she received were for soccer and track.
Said the 2015 NWSL Rookie of the Year finalist, “It did go through my head whether I’d be doing both soccer and track in college since the numbers said I was a top hurdler in the nation, but I never stressed over that because I really didn’t love track nearly as much as soccer.”
The rest is history, as the Red Stars drafted Huerta at number eleven in this year’s NWSL College Draft, following a hugely successful career with the Santa Clara Broncos that saw her honored as Co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2014 and selected to the 2012 All-West Region Second Team, the 2013 All-West Region First Team, the 2014 WCC All-Academic Team, the All-Conference First Team (four times) and the All-American Third Team (twice).
A Mexican-American, Huerta impressed enough to attract interest from the senior El Tri squad, for which she has played on four separate occasions. However, she opted against a chance to represent her father’s native country in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup so as to retain her future eligibility with the U.S.
Having played her college ball in a state where the climate is much more suitable for developing young, aspiring soccer talents, the gifted attacker has found herself pondering this factor.
“I didn’t grow up in California, where kids can play soccer twelve months out of the year,” she said. “In Idaho, we only have a few months because of the different seasons, so I didn’t start playing soccer a lot until I got to Santa Clara. I do sometimes think about what playing year-round in California, where everyone is so competitive, could have done for me. But I ultimately try to focus on the positives of my path.
“On top of all the amazing friends I’ve made, playing different sports really helped my competitiveness because I was surrounded by so many competitive people. That’s made me hate losing at everything. As a kid, I couldn’t even play cards with my family because if I lost, I would be upset and wouldn’t talk to them. To this day, I have to be careful that my competitiveness doesn’t interfere with my relationships.”
In addition to her drive to succeed, there are other very concrete benefits Huerta believes she has reaped from being involved in five different sports while growing up.
“In basketball, you frequently make cuts, accelerate and deaccelerate, which is crucial for my position in soccer as well,” she offered. “Track helps me with my running form because I know what it needs to look like if I want to run faster.
“Track also helped me deal with stress because I would get severe anxiety on the starting line waiting for the gun to go off. That was so nerve-wracking that I considered quitting multiple times because of it, but my track coach helped me overcome those issues. Now I’m so happy because it allows me to stay calm under pressure, and I’ll never quit something that’s hard and that I don’t want to do. I know I can get through it.”
The Idaho native, who is currently spending the offseason staying fit in her hometown of Boise and enjoying the occasional basketball pickup game, looks to join up with her former Santa Clara teammates in January to start preparing for the 2016 NWSL season. In reflecting on her multi-sport background, she closed by highlighting a potential advantage that is perhaps most frequently overlooked.
“I believe one of the reasons I’m crazy about soccer is because I never truly focused on it as my one thing before I got to college,” said Huerta. “When I finally played all the time, it absolutely became my obsession. I’ve heard from a lot of people who grew up playing soccer all day, every day and year-round, and who over time lost a lot of their passion. At almost 23, I have not lost one ounce of passion for this game. It’s seriously the love of my life.”
Sofia Huerta and her Chicago Red Stars will be battling for NWSL glory throughout the 2016 campaign. Season tickets may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.